Cleaning an unfinished wood floor is a lot harder than cleaning a finished one. Unfinished wood floors don't have the added protection that finished floors have.
And as such, the wrong tools and equipment can change the game completely. Even too much water will ruin a perfect unfinished floor. So, you must proceed with caution. It's more trouble than it's worth. But it's not impossible.
So, how do you go about cleaning and maintaining an unfinished wood floor? Here's all you need to know about how to clean unfinished wood floors and keep them intact.
Best Way to Clean Unfinished Wood Floors:
Before you begin cleaning the wooden floor, you must remove as much dirt and as many stains as possible. While many people will quickly turn their heads to their mop, there's a better way to clean the wooden floor.
You see, water will seep into the unfinished wood floor panels and start to warp. Therefore, you need to avoid wet cleaning methods to clean unfinished wood floors.
The best way to clean your wood floors is to use a vacuum cleaner. Just be sure that the wheels and chassis of the vacuum won't damage or scratch the untreated floor. Many have a dedicated hard floor setting.
Another option you can try is using a soft-bristled brush. Again, avoid wet brushes or any liquids entirely. Scrub out as many stains as you can without scratching the wooden surface. Do not use products meant for finished floors.
Once you've gotten the more significant stains out, it's now time to dig deeper. One of the easiest ways to clean an unfinished wood floor is with white vinegar. It's readily available in our homes and can be easily cleaned up if spilled.
Please grab a cup of white vinegar and pour it into a gallon of warm water. Now use your mop to apply this solution to the unfinished wooden floor, but very sparingly.
Remember that too much water will soften the wood and cause it to warp. If you notice any warping, stop using the solution immediately. After this, let the floor air dry.
Another common way to clean unfinished floors is via mineral spirits. These are also very readily available, but they have some health drawbacks. Mineral spirits are not only toxic when inhaled but highly flammable. That's why you should make sure you have proper ventilation and keep flames away from the floor.
It's better to spray mineral spirit onto the floor, rub it in, and spread it using a soft pad. If the scrubbing pad is non-abrasive, it's better. Let the floor air dry. Be wary that mineral spirits can release toxic vapors, which can also be flammable. So, don't bring flames near the general area, even if they don't touch the floor.
Mineral spirit also takes longer to dry. Once dry, the mineral spirit will take away any residual wax with it.
If you want a more professional cleaning outcome, you can try using trisodium phosphate. It's a popular stain cleaner for floors, and you can get it for cheap too.
It's a crystallized powder that lifts off any hard stains on the floor. Sprinkle a skinny layer of the powder onto the affected area. Let it sit for as long as it is mentioned on the box. And then gently scrub it off with any soft-bristled brush. Do not use hard-bristle brushes.
You may need to repeat the process a few times or try a different method. Once the stain has been removed, pour a minimal amount of lukewarm water and immediately wipe it off. Use a microfiber or lint-free cloth to do this.
As a last resort, you can use sandpaper for sanding the stain down. Now, this is only recommended when everything else has failed. Then, use very fine-grit sandpaper to do the job. Remember! The floor is delicate, so rough sandpaper will only lead to scratches and unwanted damage.
Sand down the stain. If the stain goes deeper than the surface, you'll need professional help. But if the stain goes away in this step, you can vacuum clean the debris.
Be sure to not sand too much. The wooden floor will become uneven. Some people like to increase the grit of the sandpaper to speed up the job. But this will only create complications in the long run. Instead, find softer sandpaper and take your time grinding the stain down. It's worth it if it means saving the floor from long-term damage.
Drying The Surface:
Depending on the method you use, you may need to wait for the surface to dry. It is essential to let the wooden floor dry on its own. If you use water, this will take a few hours. But if you use mineral spirits, you may need to wait overnight.
If you used mineral spirit, don't let anyone near the room. The fumes will be toxic and flammable. Keep the room well-ventilated, even if you used water, as it will help the room dry faster.
Biggest Cleaning Mistakes When Cleaning Unfinished Wood Floors:
Using Water and A Mop:
If you've ever cleaned a house before, you'll know how much of a difference a bucket of water and a mop can make. But surprisingly, that's what you want to avoid when cleaning untreated floors.
Untreated floors are different from treated floors. They're not as waterproof. Cleaning the whole floor with water and soap is the worst thing you can do. The water will get absorbed by the hardwood, which will soften it and warp it.
Instead, use a vacuum cleaner or a (dry) soft-bristled brush to clean the floor. You can use mineral spirit or white vinegar solution for tougher stains. But remember to use the liquids very sparingly.
Using Hard-Bristled Brushes:
Another common mistake that new untreated wooden floor owners make is using a hard-bristled brush. Unlike a treated floor, your untreated floor is just too fragile. It will get scratched all over and start to sand down.
Instead, use a soft-bristled brush. If it's not enough, use the other stain removal methods.
Cleaning With Products Made for Finished Floors:
If you've been using products for finished floors on your unfinished floor, you're doing it wrong. These products contain many liquids and must be applied in large amounts to get the desired effect. Plus, they assume your floor is safe from certain chemicals and abrasives. That's true for treated floors, but not for your untreated ones.
Trisodium phosphate is an excellent choice for untreated floors. It's not harmful to the floor and can be rubbed off with a bit of water. There are some other special cleaners for unfinished floors, such as Murphy's Oil Soap.
Waiting To Clean Stains:
One of the biggest blunders people make is not how they clean stains but when they do it. So, many people wait for the stained area to dry up to clean it, which isn't the best way to clean the stain.
Subsequently, the longer you wait, the more the stain will get soaked up. This can make all the difference between an easy clean and a hard one. If you wait too long to clean the stain, you might need to sand it down later.
Sanding Too Often:
Here's another common blunder we've seen people making. They tend to sand down the wood too often to clean up stains. Ideally, you'll want to avoid stains that are so impossible to remove that you need to sand the wood. But if you do so, do it sparingly.
While it does remove stains, sanding the wood will also create an uneven spot on the floor. And that's not to mention the scratches the sandpaper will leave. So, instead, you want to sand the floor only when it's necessary.
How To Protect Unfinished Wood Floors:
Vacuum, Not Wash:
One of the most basic principles of cleaning and protecting an unfinished floor is never to use water to wash it. A few spills here and there are fine. But cleaning the whole floor with water is a big no.
Instead, you can vacuum the floor. Again, avoid vacuums that use water or soap to clean the floor. A simple household vacuum will suffice. Make sure the vacuum does not have abrasive wheels or sharp points that can damage the floor.
Use Mineral Spirits:
Another common way to protect your floor from dust and damage is using mineral spirits. Now, mineral spirits are liquid, so you should use them sparingly. But you can be a bit more generous with these as they don't have much water unless they're heavily diluted.
One thing you must remember is, mineral spirits are never comfortable to be around. The fumes will give you a headache and lead to house fires if you bring a flame near them. They also take longer to dry, so your room will be a bit uncomfortable for a while.
Test For Splinters:
One of the most significant problems with using untreated hardwood flooring is the sheer amount of fragments you'll run into. Also, with absolutely nothing protecting you from the unforgiving floor, your toes won't precisely be thanking you.
That's why you'll need to do routine splinter checkups. It's a bit of work, but you chose this when you decided on an unfinished wood floor.
Get a cloth and run it over the entire floor. For obvious reasons, do not use your hands or feet. Check if the cloth gets snagged anywhere. If it does, you have a fragment there. You can either pull the splinter out or lightly sand it down. Don't get too aggressive with the sanding, though; it's just a fragment.
Test Your Cleaners Beforehand:
Before you use any cleaners, even if they're meant for unfinished wood floors, it's best to test them. You never know what can cause the cleaner to turn into a total disaster. Plus, not all cleaners state whether they're for unfinished or treated wood.
Find a spot on your wooden floor that's out of sight and begin your testing. Apply the recommended amount of cleaner on the floor and see if it works. It's essential to add as much cleaner as is recommended on the packaging. The side effects may not show if you use a lower dose.
You may need to wait through the drying process to test the cleaner thoroughly. After that, check for any noticeable discoloration or chemical damage. Also, look for warps. Some warping may be too conspicuous, so pull out your carpenter's level.
It should also be noted that some cleaners will only show their side effects after a few cleaning sessions. So, be sure to test the same cleaner every time you use it.
For the future, it's best to have a spare piece of the hardwood you used at hand. You can test your cleaner on this instead of having to ruin a spot on the floor, even if it's hidden.
Use A Dust Mop:
If you don't want to use a vacuum or don't have one at your disposal, you can use a dust mop. Regular mops may be too harsh on the floor when dry.
So, you might want to buy a dust mop that has soft bristles. Of course, you won't be able to clean off the tougher stains. But it's a much better option than using water.
Clean Up Stains as Soon as They Form:
When cleaning stains, timing is crucial. Stains that have been left for a while will soak into the floorboards.
This not only means the cleaning process will be more complicated, but you might have to sand the floor down. And in extreme cases, you'll have to live with the stain or get the entire board replaced.
This is why it is essential to clean up stains as soon as they form. Do not wait around for the wood to soak up the stain, no matter how hard you think the wood is.
Can You Use Vinegar on Unfinished Wood?
Yes, vinegar is one of the best ways to clean unfinished hardwood floors. White vinegar is readily available in our homes. And if not, you can buy it for cheap from any local grocery store.
The correct way to mix up the vinegar solution is to add 1 cup of white vinegar to a gallon of water. If you need more water (which is unlikely), you should maintain the same ratio. Ideally, you want to use as little water as possible.
Too much water will make the floor start to warp.
Once done, you must let the floor air dry. Again, it's essential to prohibit any people from going in the room or stepping over that spot, as they could make it worse.
Unfinished wood floors indeed take a lot of hard work to maintain and a lot of time too. But now that you know how to clean unfinished wood floors, it'll be a lot easier.
The key takeaway from this guide is never to use water. You may use it on some spills but do so very sparingly. Too much water will cause the wood to warp and soften. It's not treated, after all.
Aside from that, vacuuming and brushing with a soft-bristled brush is the best way to go. It's non-abrasive and keeps the floor sparkling and free from stains.